Phil Ivey has taken an aggressive route to salvation. Attempting to emerge from the wreckage of Black Friday with his reputation intact, but has this gambit paid off?
It all began with a law suit, demanding that Full Tilt pay out millions of dollars owed to their customers and an announcement that he would be skipping this year’s World Series.
His absence from the WSOP was billed as a kind of protest, but it’s nothing more than a defense mechanism. Designed to shield the world’s greatest player from a barrage of questions and abuse that would no doubt have spilled in his direction.
The lawsuit evaporated quicker than Isildur’s bankroll and news from the Rio has quickly eclipsed all memory of Phil’s bold boycott. Another Phil has been making all the headlines. “Ivey isn’t at the World Series” only generates interesting copy for so long. After a few days, hard-bitten journos have to find something else to write about and it’s usually easier to build stories around stuff that’s happening rather than stuff that isn’t.
There’s certainly no danger of Ivey being marginalised. He’s still the greatest player on Earth and is likely to emerge from his foxhole for the remaining big events of the year. By all accounts he’s signed on for Annie Duke and Jefferey Pollack’s Epic Poker League, for example.
More relevant is the impact to his image. Full Tilt is still a villain to many ordinary poker players, but there’s no doubt that Phil Ivey’s crusade to win back their money didn’t sound totally genuine. Had he kept his head below the parapet, it’s likely that Phil would have been mostly left alone. Fans think of him as a high roller and a great player, not a businessman. The Howard Lederers of this world will come in for far more scrutiny.
By lashing out at his former masters, Ivey became embroiled in a war of tittle tattle. Full Tilt accused him of welching on debts he owed to the company and while these accusations may or may not be true, it’s degrading to be involved in that kind of exchange. With the writing on the wall, Full Tilt lashed out like a cornered animal. By launching his lawsuit, Phil communicated to Full Tilt that he was no longer their prize asset. Without that admission, you can bet your bottom dollar they would have tried everything in their power to hang on to the most recognizable name in poker.
His decision to trigger conflict with Full Tilt is all the more confusing, seeing as he is often listed among the pros who were involved in starting the company. ‘For the Pros, by the Pros’ the slogan used to read and Ivey has always been counted among that number.
Until he officially severs all connection with the company or gains sponsorship from a new site, his name will be inextricably tied to its tarnished reputation. His lawsuit noted as much, claiming that the actions of Full Tilt executives had brought his image into disrepute.
That’s no doubt true, but signposting that fact showed naivety. If your friends with a murderer, it’s probably not the greatest idea to open a window and shout to the street, “Hey everyone. I’m hanging out with this murderer at the moment, but I’d rather not and, by the way, I’ve totally not killed anyone at all.” It might be true, but it only draws negative attention. Much better to extricate yourself quietly from the situation and wait until you’re clear to make comment.
Phil Ivey’s image is not what it was before the events of Black Friday, but he is partially to blame, as he did very little to insulate himself from the Full Tilt fallout. Like the proverbial phoenix, poker’s most precious commodity will rise again, but by digging himself into a hole, he has made the climb back to credibility much harder than it could have been.